August 16, 2021, Letter from Head of School Robert Hill on Reopening

Dear Williston Community,

We are eagerly planning for the safe reopening of the Williston Northampton School and a return to as normal a school year as we possibly can have. As has always been the case, however, the safety of our students and our employees is our highest priority.

This letter will address our latest decisions, given the continued presence of COVID-19, and the measures we are taking for a safe opening, including testing protocols, as we welcome our students to campus. It is always a logistical feat to recreate our community here from across the nation and around the world, and we are more excited than ever to have everyone together for the first time since the pandemic began.

Critically important, Williston remains committed to being a fully vaccinated community for all adults and students, except for a handful of approved exemptions. With Massachusetts being second only to Vermont in vaccinated citizens, and with Williston’s vaccination policy firmly established, I am confident that we can operate safely and joyfully in the weeks and months ahead.

Still, as everyone knows, the Delta variant of COVID-19 presents challenges: Not only can vaccinated individuals still get sick, but vaccinated individuals also can be asymptomatic transmitters of the virus. The most promising fact, backed by the data and science, continues to be the effectiveness of the vaccinations in keeping people from becoming seriously ill. This is a crucial difference from our situation last fall.

Williston’s decisions continue to be led by scientific and medical expertise. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from Massachusetts and Easthampton public health departments have been our road signs as we have navigated the pandemic landscape. They inform our protocols below. As we have done for the last 18 months of living with the pandemic, we must recommit ourselves to being flexible, patient, and dedicated to working together as one community.

Following are updated Williston policies for all students regardless of vaccination status:

  • All students must have a negative PCR test administered within 72 hours prior to arrival. PCR testing is widely available at local pharmacies and information is available on state websites.
  • We highly recommend that all students voluntarily get tested 10 days before campus arrival in addition to the mandatory 72-hour test time-frame above. If a student were to test positive, such an early test result would allow for CDC-mandated isolation for an on-time start of school.
  • All students will be antigen tested upon their arrival to campus.
  • The school will administer a school-wide “repopulation” PCR test (for employees and students), or possibly more than one test, in the opening week or weeks of school to ensure that we begin with a virus-free community.
  • We will begin the year with all students and employees wearing proper face masks over the mouth and nose indoors in all non-residential campus buildings (with limited exceptions, cited below). Masking applies to busses, vans, and other forms of school-provided transportation.
  • Boarding students and dorm parents do not need to mask in the dorms in which they reside. Until we establish our virus-free community, we ask that students do not visit dorms other than their own, and after that restriction is lifted, all students and employees should wear a mask when visiting dorms they do not reside in.
  • All community members will wear proper face masks when traveling from campus and inside/in close spaces, including excursions to Easthampton, Northampton, field trips, weekend trips, or anytime they are around gatherings of people whose vaccination status is unknown.
  • All athletes will wear masks in the locker rooms, fitness center, training room, or as specified by an adult. Athletes during practices should expect not to wear masks, unless conditions change. We will treat teams as “pods,” just as we will treat dormitories as pods.
  • Any unvaccinated student or adult must always be masked while indoors, except in their own dorm room. Unvaccinated people remain the most at risk for contracting the highly infectious Delta variant. Unvaccinated students or adults will also, as was shared in an earlier letter, need to have weekly antigen test(s).

I am hopeful that the Delta variant will largely be under control in New England and that we will be able to adjust our practices accordingly. As was the case during the most uncertain times one year ago, individual behavior and adherence to our protocols was critical to everyone’s health and safety. We will again be requiring all members of our community to abide by the rules of the Williston Compact, which will be distributed before the start of school. I urge all students and families, therefore, to be extra cautious in the two weeks leading up to the start of school, to curtail unnecessary large gatherings, and, when in the presence of unknown groups, to mask and use common sense measures.

For students and families who have not yet returned your vaccination status to Health and Wellness Services, please do so immediately! We want to be sure that, as we celebrate the start of Williston Northampton School’s 181st year, none of us is a silent carrier of the Delta variant, and we can reclaim the joyful spirit that defines the Williston experience.

Thank you for your understanding; I look forward to welcoming each of you here. As always, please reach out to anyone at the school with questions, and don’t forget to check our FAQ page, which will be continuously updated. I would also encourage all Upper School families to attend our Upper School Zoom Webinar (click here to join the Zoom) on Tuesday, August 17, at 8 p.m. ET, and all Middle School families to attend our Middle School Zoom Webinar (click here to join the Zoom) on Wednesday, August 18, at 8 p.m. ET.


Robert W. Hill III
Head of School